Last week 13 medical cannabis dispensaries across Canada received shutdown letters from Health Canada warning them to cease all activities in the next 30 days or the issue will be referred to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
Saskatchewan Compassion Club founder Mark Hauk was one of the dispensary owners that received the letter through e-mail.
“It’s a very curious and, many have called it, a bizarre letter,” said Hauk. “It referenced advertising but it also referenced the sale of medical cannabis and it basically [ordered] our club to stop advertising.”
Hauk also described the letter as “carelessly written” containing no official signature.
The letter also threatens prosecution with up to two years in jail and a $5 million fine.
The B.C. Compassion Club also received one of these letters despite being one of the oldest compassion clubs in BC and a legitimate non-profit that serves over 9,000 members. Spokeswoman Jamie Shaw said she doesn’t advertise cannabis or cannabis products, and despite being across from a school, the club has a good working relationship with their neighbours.
“It’s confusing for us right now. We’re trying to figure out what the problem is,” said Shaw. “If they are things that we can address or deal with, we will happily do so, but in terms of actually closing and ceasing our operations, until Health Canada actually develops a system that takes care of our members, we’re not going to simply abandon them.”
Conroy said Health Canada is obligated under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to explain the allegations included in the letter.
“The reality is, no matter how many shops are here, regardless of what the federal government does, if there is even just one shop left it’s going to follow our guidelines, so it’s business as usual,” he said.
Meanwhile Health Minister Rona Ambrose, whose office sent out the letters, has been clear in the federal government’s position on dispensaries.
“The law is quite clear that dispensaries, whether they are online or a storefront, are illegal and they should not be allowed to advertise these illegal services,” Ambrose said in a statement from August 1.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said on Friday he was surprised to hear about the shutdown letters.
“The federal government has left us in this quagmire and we’ve responded locally with strong regulation in partnership with our police and health authority and it’s surprising to see Health Canada weigh in now,” he said.
The RCMP have declined to comment but the letters won’t change how the Vancouver Police Department deals with dispensaries, said Const. Brian Montague.
“Our position regarding the marijuana stores in Vancouver has not changed,” Montague said.